By Waverly Neufeld

(Graphic by Aneta Rebiszewski/Ryersonian)

Videographer and social media influencer Nicole Fonseca went jet skiing in the Bahamas over reading week, but she spent much of her time worrying about getting quality footage of the adventure for Instagram.

“Being a videographer, when I’m travelling, I feel pressure,” says Fonseca.

Growing up, Fonseca discovered her love for photography and videography. When she started doing freelance video and photo work, social media became a tool to help showcase her work and gain clients. Fonseca says a lot of brands want to work with videographers who have a large Instagram following to help promote their brand to that audience.

Instagram was created back in 2010 by Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger. Today, it’s one of the most used apps and has an estimated value of $100 billion. In light of this, it comes as no surprise that brands have shifted to social media to advertise their products. Companies work with people called “influencers,” who use their platform to endorse different brands’ products on social media. There are many different types of influencers. Among the most notable are bloggers, fitness gurus, gamers, fashion and beauty influencers, athletes and models.

Influencers often portray a seemingly perfect image to their followers. In reality, maintaining this image puts a lot of pressure on influencers and their real life experiences are rarely depicted on the app.

Fonseca says she doesn’t compare herself to other influencers because she knows what goes on behind the scenes of a photo and that it’s never as good as it looks—though she can see why people would compare their lives and feel jealous.

“People who don’t travel often think that it is the best thing and I can see how that can affect them,” says Fonseca. “In reality, the best moments of my life haven’t been posted on Instagram.”

Instead, Fonseca feels pressure to keep up the brand she’s built through connections she’s made with other companies and videographers. While in the Bahamas, Fonseca posted content every day and says she gained over 200 followers on her trip, but when she came back home to Toronto and stopped posting frequently, she noticed a decrease in followers.

Fourth-year media production student Jessica Burtt created her Instagram account over seven years ago, when Instagram was still relatively new. Burtt says she used the app for leisure and only got more serious about it last year.

By serious, Burtt means being more conscious of the content she is posting. “I tried to transition it into a business,” says Burtt. With just over 2,000 followers, Burtt is considered a micro-influencer. Micro-influencers are profiles that have a social media following of under 10,000 followers.

She admits to trying to make her life look picture perfect through her Instagram. “I’ve had experiences where I was definitely being way too hard on myself and pressuring myself to look like I was living this really glamorous life,” says Burtt. “[It] really affect[s] my mental state. As much as I love taking photos, I don’t think Instagram is beneficial for anyone’s mental health.”

According to a 2017 survey, 61 per cent of girls whose social media usage exceeded five hours a day suffered from moderate to serious psychological distress, compared with 33 per cent of boys. The Ontario Student Drug Use and Health survey was conducted by the Toronto-based Centre for Addiction and Mental Health and surveyed 11,435 students from grades 7 through 12 across Ontario in 2017.

“I remember being in Florida at this beautiful hotel that I saw another influencer go to. And I was like, ‘She took such beautiful photos here, I want to get amazing photos too.’ I [later] had a breakdown at the pool [of the hotel], because I was putting way too much pressure on myself.”

Burtt isn’t alone. Several non-influencer Instagram users also feel pressure to make their lives look perfect, despite what is really going on in their personal lives.

When Riley Dacus, a third-year University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma student, tweeted a series of photos from a project she had done on the fakeness of Instagram, she had no idea what the outcome would be. In her communications course, Dacus was assigned to create a poster drawing attention to an issue that mattered to her. Dacus surpassed the expectations of the assignment when she tweeted her project, which now has over 350,000 likes and 100,000 retweets. The project consists of various Instagram photos and the backstory of what was really going on in the person’s life during the time the photo was posted. One of the photos is of a smiling Dacus, posing with her arms outstretched toward the sky in New York City. Above the photo is the explanation that reads, “My doctor had to prescribe me xanax because I was so anxious about going.”

Dacus says the idea came to her after she scrolled through Instagram one afternoon. “I saw all these people posting photos on trips and it got me thinking about my own feed and how we only put our highlight reels on social media. We don’t put all of the things that happen [in our lives],” explains Dacus. “I realized how much I’m influenced by seeing other people’s [content] and I was hoping other people would really resonate with that project as well.”

Screenshot of Riley Dacus’ viral tweet. The third-year University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma student posted a series of photos from a project she had done on the fakeness of Instagram.

Dacus says after sharing her viral tweet, she’s received tons of messages from people around the world with their own Instagram photos and explanations of what was actually going on behind the scenes when the photo was taken. “They’ve been so supportive and I’m honestly just really overwhelmed. I’m super thankful people connected with it the way that they did,” she says.

As for what Dacus has taken away from the project, she says she is going to spend less time on the app.

“[I’m] more cautious about what I post and more real,” she says. “I think we need to consider what people are going through even when they are putting their happy self out there. You don’t need to be envious of people’s feeds because they’re only putting their best out there, not what’s going on behind the photo.”

Ryerson communications professor Dr. Jessica Whitehead says we’re going to continue to see the trend of micro-influencers involved in marketing strategies.

Whitehead says one of the main reasons why brands are focusing on social media advertising is because of the emotional connection followers feel towards the influencers they follow.

“People will follow a social media influencer and look at their posts everyday, so they feel like they kind of know them,” says Whitehead. “When they recommend a product, [consumers are] more apt to pay for it than if they were watching a traditional ad on television where they might not always believe that they use the products.”

Burtt says she is more prone to follow accounts of people who come off as genuine on Instagram. “They tell it how it is; if they don’t like a product they’ll say it,” says Burtt. “They’re not trying to make their life look glamorous, they’re just trying to be who they are and I have a bigger connection to those people.”

Whitehead says brands will continue to approach these groups of people, specifically micro-influencers, because they can pay them less and they’re able to diversify and get large groups of people interested in specific brands.

That’s not to say that brands are afraid to dish out big bucks on sponsorships. According to HopperHQ’s 2018 Instagram Rich List, the top-paid celebrities are Kylie Jenner at $1 million per post, Selena Gomez at $800,000 per post and Cristiano Ronaldo at $750,000 per post.  Research from video production company One Productions shows that over 90 per cent of brands have found success using influencer marketing. The data also shows that influencer marketing can generate up to 11 times the profit on the initial investment paid to influencers.

Popular beauty blogger and YouTuber Anna Saccone Joly is an example of an influencer whose content has shifted in tone and strayed away from the facade of perfection many bloggers attempt to curate. In an interview with Glamour Magazine UK last year, she spoke publicly and openly about her eating disorder. Her two most recent uploads are titled “We’re Not Perfect” and “I Need A Break.”

Meredith Foster, who also got her start from YouTube, has two million followers on Instagram and often partners with companies. Last week, she posted a photo opening up about having an eating disorder. Many of her fans sent loving messages in the comments, applauding her bravery.

Whitehead says that while we are seeing more influencers be transparent about their personal struggles, Instagram is still packed with over-saturated content that can leave people feeling insufficient. “People feel inadequate that their lives don’t look like that. There is still a lot of difficulty for people feeling as though their lives don’t live up to the Instagram posts,” says Whitehead.

But Burtt says we have to remember what is curated and what is real. “It’s important to remember that nobody’s life is perfect, no matter what you see on social media.”

This is a joint byline. Ryersonian staff are responsible for the news website edited and produced by final-year undergraduate and graduate journalism students at Ryerson University. It features all the content from the weekly campus newspaper, The Ryersonian, and distributes news and online multimedia, including video newscasts from RyersonianTV. Ryersonian.ca also provides videos, images, and other interactive material in partnership with the School of Journalism.

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